Jeffrey J. Basil is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday morning for the death of William C. Sager Jr. at Molly’s Pub last May, but before that can happen, the judge must decide whether the murder conviction should be set aside.
If State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang grants the defense motion to vacate the jury’s verdict because of a juror’s alleged misconduct during jury selection, the former Molly’s Pub manager will get a new trial.
If not, the verdict will stand, and the judge will sentence Basil for pushing Sager down the stairs at the University Heights bar May 11, causing a skull fracture.
The devastating brain injury left Sager, a 28-year-old Air National Guardsman who served in Afghanistan and was engaged to be married, in a coma and led to his death July 31 at Erie County Medical Center.
Basil, 36, of Amherst, was convicted Jan. 21 of second-degree intentional murder. He faces a prison sentence of at least 15 years to life and at most 25 years to life.
Proving that Basil intended to kill Sager was key to the prosecution’s case.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling said the force of the push showed Basil’s intent.
He cited expert testimony by a University at Buffalo physics professor William Kinney who calculated that the push was delivered with 374 pounds of force as Sager stood about 3 feet from the top of the stairs.
Kinney also determined that the victim’s body was traveling at 9 mph just after he was pushed and that he had accelerated to 17 mph when his head hit the floor, causing the fatal skull fracture.
The prosecutor also cited what he called the disturbing video captured on the bar’s digital video recording system that showed Sager flying backwards down the stairs.
He also noted that about 15 minutes before the fatal push, Basil told the bartender “to get this guy (Sager) out of my ... face,” even though witnesses said Sager had not been bothering anybody.
The defense contended that the prosecution did not prove intent to kill.
The push “was done without thinking or reasoning in a fraction of a second, an impulsive act that resulted in the death of another human being,” defense attorney Andrew C. LoTempio told the jury in his closing statement.
He said it was a case of two drunken men in a bar and one impulsively pushing the other down the stairs.
The jury also convicted Basil of tampering with evidence for removing the bar’s DVR system from the basement office after the fatal push and putting it in a garbage tote behind a nearby home, where police later found it.
In moving to set aside the verdict, defense attorney Paul J. Cambria contended that one juror concealed her military service and arrest record when she was questioned during jury selection.
He said the juror’s service in the Air Force Reserve from 1999 to 2001 biased her in favor of Sager and against Basil.
He also said her 1997 arrest on charges of grand theft in Florida and the fact that the case was never prosecuted may have biased her in favor of the prosecution.
He argued that the juror’s conduct deprived Basil of his right to a fair and impartial jury.
Belling opposed the motion, noting that two other jurors with military service were selected and that an alternate juror with an arrest record also was picked.
He said that the juror in question was never asked whether she had served in the military and that she had forgotten her 1997 arrest because it was so long ago and the case was never prosecuted.
In addition, at an April 7 hearing on the motion, the juror testified that she was one of three who voted against convicting Basil of murder when the 12 jurors took their first ballot during deliberations, but the three of them eventually joined the other nine jurors in voting to convict him.
She said her military service and arrest record played no role in her decision find him guilty of murder.